A Tribute to Joni Mitchell
Both of my parents were hippies. I grew up with music always playing in the background. My Dad was a Stones fan whilst Mum loved The Beatles. I clearly remember sitting cross-legged next to the record player with giant headphones clamped to my ears. Usually they’d slip off and I’d have to rest my elbows in my lap so I could hold them on with both hands.
Each album had my Mum or Dad’s name scrawled in the upper right-hand corner in blue biro. I never thought this was odd or slightly cynical. Instead it was just really helpful because I could follow up my listening sessions, then approach each of my parents separately with my questions.
‘Mum- what’s the Marrakesh Express. Does it really exist?’
‘Dad- who’s Jumpin’ Jack Flash and is he a bad person?’
‘Why’s that guy singing about his guitar weeping?’
I didn’t realise how writing your names down on stuff might imply a lack of faith in your relationship. Or that one day these records would end up in separate boxes – in separate homes.
I ran away from home once when I was eight. I got as far as sitting outside the basement flat. I remember feeling really sad with no idea what to do next. I clearly remember chickening out eventually and running back up again. Mum put John Denver’s ‘Leaving on A Jet Plane’ on the record player. She swung me in her arms and I was filled with terror – how could I consider life without her?
Listening to those records provided a tantalising glimpse into adult life. There were devils, heroes, adventures and conflicts. There was the ‘Hotel California’ and once you arrived you could never leave. There was a man (who was from The Beatles) who sang- ‘I never meant to cause you sorrow or pain’. And then there was Joni Mitchell.
If there was one person who played through my entire childhood then it was her. Whenever I hear her voice I’m transported back to our old front room with the revolting brown and orange carpet, macrame plant pots with spider plants spilling out the sides and cream bean bags (I may be remembering this wrong but the sofa was definitely close to the floor and super-comfy). Joni sang when Dad was home. She sang when he wasn’t. She sang about ‘my old man’. She sang about ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’. She was the main accompaniment to the everyday drama. If Mum was in a particularly bad mood then Joni’s singing became pretty relentless. A howl that echoed out the door – making any man within spitting distance shake in his flared trousers.
When my daughter was born I went through a hard time. The everyday stuff felt very ominous. I no longer knew who I was. I found it hard to keep a sense of perspective so everything was an emergency. During this period the song I played incessantly was – ‘Little Green’ (all about the daughter Joni had put up for adoption). It seems like a strange choice as I clearly wasn’t considering adoption. Instead the words reassured me.
It made me think of my parents when they were married. It made me think of a photo of the two of them eating ice cream (they look about eighteen and they’re so serious). It made me think of my Dad’s expression when I told him I hated him and didn’t want to see him anymore.
It reminded me of that heavy feeling when you become a parent. It gave me a link to the past and a sense that everything would be okay.
‘Just a little green
Like the color when the spring is born
There’ll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow
Just a little green
Like the nights when the Northern lights perform
There’ll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there’ll be sorrow‘